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‘White privilege’ education report is ‘promoting a culture war’

MPs behind controversial Education Select Committee report accused of distracting from child poverty and widening inequalities

white privilege in education

An Education Select Committee report has been accused of ignoring the systemic reasons why White British pupils struggle in school in favour of stoking a culture war over the use of the term "white privilege". Image credit: CDC/Unsplash

A controversial report which claimed without evidence that using the term “white privilege” could damage White working-class pupils’ school performance has been criticised for “stoking a culture war” by an MP who sat on the committee behind it.

Liverpool Riverside MP Kim Johnson described the Education Select Committee report as “pursuing a dangerous and dogmatic agenda” through focusing on the divisive term rather than addressing the underlying causes of educational difficulties such as poverty.

The report said terms like “white privilege may be alienating to disadvantaged White communities”, and it may have contributed towards a “systemic neglect of White people facing hardship who also need specific support”. It offered no evidence to support the claims beyond “belief” and “concern” from committee members.

Johnson – one of four Labour MPs on the 11-strong committee alongside seven Conservative politicians – has disowned the committee’s findings and said she submitted an alternative report calling for funding to “level up left-behind regions”.

“This report is a missed opportunity to bolster opportunities for so-called left behind communities – such as the ones I represent – who are suffering from educational inequalities due to rocketing child poverty and a lack of investment in jobs and opportunities,” said Johnson.

The government “couldn’t care less” about working-class communities, she added,  “including left behind White communities”.

“If this report was truly interested in improving the lives of disadvantaged White children, it would have called out the impact of a decade of Tory austerity on widening inequalities and soaring child poverty.

“Instead, it pursues a dangerous and dogmatic agenda, pushed by a small group of hard-right ideologues. It has focused on promoting a culture war over the concept of White Privilege instead of pursuing measures that will materially benefit disadvantaged communities, including White communities.”

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The committee’s report focused on White working-class pupils who receive free school meals and found the group underachieve academically compared to other groups.

White British pupils who received free-school meals made up 14 per cent of the total number of White British schoolchildren who received their GCSE results in 2020, compared to 25 per cent of Black pupils and 17 per cent of Asian students, the report said.

But while White British pupils are less likely to receive free school meals, the committee, chaired by Conservative MP Robert Halfon, said ethnic minority groups frequently outperformed White British pupils in education.

Author Nels Abbey, who wrote ‘Think Like a White Man: A Satirical Guide to Conquering the World … While Black’, told The Big Issue the report has turned a poverty based issue into a race row.

“The report manipulatively synonymises white privilege with racism. And I believe it does this on purpose,” said Abbey. 

“White privilege does not guarantee success or a shielding from disadvantage. It simply means that any disadvantage experienced is highly unlikely to be as a result of being white. Poverty however does guarantee disadvantage – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why the government would want to steer people to look in a different direction. 

He added: “This was supposed to be a report on education and the impact poverty, place and class have on attainment. We should be looking at the difference in outcomes between advantaged and disadvantaged children in education. For culture war purposes they have diverted it into an inflammatory report on race and ethnicity.

“With this report the government have racialised poor white people and are using their pain and suffering as a stick to beat ethnic minorities and anti-racists with. [It] doesn’t help anyone.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said the government is spending £14bn on school funding over the next three years and investing in family hubs, technical education and strengthening teacher training to help pupils with their academic performance.

The government spokesperson said: “This government is focused on levelling up opportunity so that no young person is left behind.”

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